By Ken Fletcher

THE iTexel conference will also give farmers and those in the supply chain a powerful insight in to the prospects for the sheep sector in the coming years and the ways new technologies and concepts can help its supply chain become more resiliant.

Texel Sheep Society chief executive, John Yates, said the ‘agritech’ era offered huge opportunities for farmers to take advantage of a range of emerging technologies and ally them with traditional stockmanship skills. “As with most changes in farming, the adoption of agritech will be an evolution of current practices to incorporate new developments as they become available and applicable.”

At a farm level, Nuffield Scholar and Texel breeder, Neil McGowan, will give an insight in to his learnings on how new technology is helping sheep farmers, researchers and geneticists in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

“While on the face of it the livestock industries in these countries have many differences to our own here in the UK, the ultimate objective is the same – to produce sheep and cattle able to thrive in their environments and to produce red meat as efficiently and economically as possible,” said Mr Yates.

Moving up the supply chain, the conference will hear from Rizvan Khalid, of Euro Quality Lambs, a family run abattoir in Shropshire. He will give attendees the latest updates and insights in to the sheep meat market, both domestically and internationally, with a focus on the growing influence of the ethnic market on the European sheep sector.

Adding to this focus on maximising value in the supply chain will be Natalie Howes, of Abacus Bio. A farmer’s daughter from New Zealand, she has been actively involved in a number of projects to add value to red meat.

Her passion for integrated supply chains and identifying opportunities to improve production and processing efficiencies is complemented by a PhD in Food Science which led to the development of the ‘Te Mana’ lamb brand. This unique product combines breeding, feeding and processing sectors to deliver a high value lamb product with high levels of beneficial fatty acids.

Meanwhile, SRUC’s senior agricultural economist, Steven Thomson, will give the conference an up to date overview of the economic challenges facing the sheep sector. With Brexit just a few months away, he will outline how the sheep sector could be affected both positively and negatively and will examine what farmers can do to ready themselves for the biggest change to trading relationships and agricultural policy for more than 40 years.

Bringing delegates up to speed with the breed society’s ongoing research and development projects will be a number of speakers from SRUC, including Neil Clelland, Nicola Lambe, Jo Conington and Mike Coffey. All are heavily involved in both the society’s mastitis and footrot research projects, its meat quality and carcase composition research work, and development of routine genomic evaluations.

This is focussed on developing new tools to aid improved genetic gains within the breed and ensure breeders make the most of the opportunities new technologies, such as genomics, can offer in future. “As the UK tansitions to a post-Brexit economy, it is essential sheep farmers stay abreast of changing policy and consumer trends in order to make their businesses fit for the future,” explained Mr Yates.

From a Texel society aspect, Mr Yates said the society’s management of genetic improvement services for the breed as well as its investment in research and development and the Basco database were all designed to equip Texel breeders with the tools needed to thrive in future. “Our members represent the largest collective sheep breeding group in Europe and it is vital they have the ability to adapt their breeding strategies in line with current and future market developments.

“This conference will enable farmers to better understand the factors affecting the supply chain at every level and how they can adapt their flocks and businesses to take advantage of the opportunities on offer in the coming years.”


What: iTexel conference

Where: The North Lakes Hotel, Penrith

When: Saturday, November 17

How: Places for the conference cost £20 and can be reserved by completing the booking form on the society’s website or e-mail – Texel Sheep Society members are eligible for one free ticket per membership and will receive a full refund of the ticket price after the conference.